Every Story is About Change

Every story needs change, regardless of the story’s focus. By recognizing this and emphasizing it, you can engage and connect with your donors more effectively.

As nonprofit leaders, we’re dedicated to making a difference and changing lives through our work. But when it comes to sharing about that work with donors, we tend to focus on reporting on our activities and achievements rather than emphasizing the actual impact and transformation taking place.

The transformation story is a key part of an effective fundraising strategy. That’s the familiar before and after story. But all of our stories need to show change.

Change is essential for a story.

Every story is fundamentally about change, and any story without change falls flat.

A story without change is a like a wall without bricks. Change isn’t just a part of story, it’s what story is made of. 

–Damien Walter

Change always has an emotional element. The two go hand in hand; that makes them a great duo for your storytelling repertoire. Knowing where to look for change and how to show that change in your storytelling can unlock a treasure trove of stories for your cause. 

Donors want to see the real difference their contributions are making. Reporting back to donors with numbers and reports of what you did is good. But it’s not a story if nothing changes. Which of these feels more like a story your donors would appreciate?

a) We delivered 50 pallets of water to families after the storm.

b) Thanks to you, 600 families have fresh water after flooding contaminated the local water supply.*

The first sentence says what you did. The second shows the change (and gives donors the credit).

Change can occur in various forms, and it isn’t limited to the person you’re writing about. The main character (the person you’re focusing on), undergoes the most significant change. But other characters, and the world around them, may also experience transformation. 

Many things may change at once. Sometimes, we’re so focused on the big change we’re hoping for that we miss other changes taking place.

It’s easy to overlook some changes.

Small or incremental changes. Not all changes are grand or dramatic. Even small decisions, especially over time, can bring real change. Think about some small action you take every day. What would happen if you stopped that habit? And what happens when you start a new habit? The changes we need to start a new habit are often small, but they have a tremendous impact. 

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Internal changes. Changes in the way we think, attitude changes, or shifts in approach are often the seed for bigger transformations. The only way to know how a person experienced an event, how they feel, or what their thought processes were, is to talk with them and ask. Hone your interviewing skills and be willing to spend the time to get these types of stories.

Changes sparked by challenges, interruptions, or failure. As nonprofit leaders, we do hard things. Not everything will go according to plan. Don’t shy away from these stories. Donors tend to respond well to stories that show how organizations adapt and grow, so let them in on these “behind the scenes” stories.

Consider different types of change and the steps that lead to significant transformations. Highlight the implications of the change and the potential it holds for the future. Consider what the world would be like if the change doesn’t take place.

When you write, ask yourself:

What changed? Or, where is the change?

What could change?

What needs to change? (and what’s the consequence if it doesn’t)

Build stories with change and help donors see the difference they make when they give.

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